It can be difficult for service providers to connect to groups of people we describe as “Hard-to-Reach” populations. Recently we have been researching outreach strategies for veterans, because of the large number of veterans in need who are eligible for benefits but are not receiving them.
Many of the veterans we have interviewed feel that there is a strong social stigma against applying for benefits, especially if their peers and social circle are aware. Unfortunately, these stigmas can often lead to associating the act of asking for help with a sense of failure. Often, attempts are made to outreach to veterans through bringing them together with their fellow veterans at social events combined with benefits fairs. However, we have observed that this approach actually leaves veterans feeling uncomfortable and more hesitant to seek out information.
Our experiences and research have highlighted two key ideas that have proven successful for outreach to veterans:
One thing that has come up time and time again in our interviews with veterans was the importance that the information comes from people they trust. The VA Rural Veterans Outreach Toolkit recommends developing community liaisons—individuals from within the veteran’s social circle who can be recruited to advocate for the use of these programs—when planning outreach to veterans. Bringing friends and family members on board creates an environment that is more hospitable to veterans and sparks a more welcoming and accepting attitude toward benefits.
Although many younger veterans are hesitant to apply for benefits, most are extremely comfortable with Internet technology. Many young veterans become more interested in applying for benefits when they discover they can complete and submit the applications themselves online.
We believe that combining these two practices — recruiting members of the community to help spread information, and focusing on programs like Self-Serve with younger veterans — will help increase the percentage of eligible veterans who apply for benefits.
How are you connecting to veterans in your community? If you would like to share any successful strategies or tools regarding your efforts, or participate in our survey, please let us know! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment here.